The Death of Murat Idrissi by Tommy Wieringa (translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett, Man Booker International Prize 2019)

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This is a rather shocking story which reads, forgive me, a little bit like watching the film Thelma and Louise. You can sense the imminent danger that lies ahead from the very first page.

Two young and naive girls from Holland, vacationing in their parents’ country of Morocco, come across a young man named Saleh. He leads them through alleyways to a hovel, where the ceiling is little higher than the door, and introduces them to a young man named Murat, with terribly decayed teeth, and his mother. They are living the poorest existence, and yet set out a tray of dates and tasteless pastries for their visitors, giving the very best of what they have.

One of the girls, named Thouraya, wears Miu Miu sunglasses and carries a D&G rose-pink bag over her shoulder, “looking like a film star on her way to do charity work.”

She couldn’t stand the poverty, the heat, and the dust. It exhausted her. There was compassion in her, but beneath the surface also the conviction that poor people had only themselves to blame for living like this. A kind of payback for something. That thought bore her up a little, made it easier to tolerate what she was seeing.

But Thouraya and her friend Ilham begrudgingly agree to do as Murat’s mother begs them on her knees; they agree to take Murat in their rented Audi, stuffing him in the trunk where the spare tyre goes, piling suitcases on top of him to keep him hidden. Lots of Moroccans cross like this, according to Saleh. It happens all the time.

If they don’t help, they are heartless and selfish. If they do help, they take dreadful chances of being apprehended.  It is a terrible dilemma.

If her (Ilham’s) own parents hadn’t risked the crossing, she might be in the same situation as this woman on her knees, this desperate family that smelled of poverty. A bitter feeling of gall rose up in her – she, the ingrate, who had been given every chance in life, was now denying that to someone else.

Of course, they decide to hide Murat in the car as they cross on a ferry, and of course (as you can tell by the title), he dies of suffocation in the trunk. When Saleh sees that Murat is dead, he takes the money given to them and flees. The girls must figure out what to do with the body, and having no money, on their own. They are thousands of kilometers from home, and they have the gas left for only a couple of hundred kilometers.

It makes for an interesting story, of people taking advantage of one another, but more importantly addressing an issue so prevalent today: immigration. Murat’s body in the trunk starts to produce a terrible smell, as someone from the shadow jury pointed out, so like the smell that immigrants give for those who don’t want them in their country.

As the Man Booker International Prize so often does, The Death of Murat Idrissi makes a profound political, as well as a literary, statement.

(Thank you to Scribe Publications for the copy of this book to review.)